Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Himalayan glaciers, including the world's highest battlefield Siachen, are melting due to variations in weather and not because of global warming, Jammu University scientists have claimed. "The field studies from other glaciers in India also corroborate the fact that inter and intra-annual variations in weather parameters have more impact on the glaciers of northwest Himalayas, rather than any impact due to global warming," they said.

Geologists R K Ganjoo and M N Koul of Jammu University's Regional Centre for Field Operations and Research of Himalayan Glaciology visited the Siachen glacier to record changes in its snout last summer. "To our surprise, the Siachen glacier valley does not preserve evidences of glaciation older than mid-Holocene, suggesting that the glacier must have advanced and retreated simultaneously several times in the geological past, resulting in complete obliteration and modification of older evidences," they said reporting their findings in 'Current Science'.

Ganjoo and Koul dubbed as "hype" some earlier studies which suggested that the Himalayan glaciers were melting fast and caused serious damage to the Himalayan ecosystem. There is sufficient field and meteorological evidence from the other side of Karakoram mountains that corroborate the fact that glaciers in this part of the world are not affected by global warming, they said. "Overwhelming field geomorphological evidences suggest poor response of the Siachen glacier to global warming. The snout of the Siachen glacier of 2008 has retreated by about 8-10 metres since 1995, making an average retreat of 0.6 metre per year," the scientists said.

Ganjoo said that the east part of the Siachen glacier showed faster withdrawal of the snout that is essentially due to ice-calving, a phenomenon that holds true for almost all major glaciers in the Himalayas and occurs irrespective of global warming. The west part of the Siachen has reduced due to the action of melting water released from the retreated tributary glacier, he said. Ganjoo contended the Siachen glacier shows hardly any retreat in its middle part and thus defies the "hype" of rapid melting.


(The research findings by R.K. Ganjoo and M.N. Koul are published in CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 97, NO. 3, 10 AUGUST 2009 )


Monday's National Clean Energy Summit 2.0 will bring a parade of celebrated public policy experts to Las Vegas to discuss greening the country's economy.

But as leaders including former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger encourage investments in alternative energy, their policy prescriptions could face serious headwinds from changing public opinions.

Recent surveys show Americans cooling to global warming, and they're even less keen on environmental policies they believe might raise power bills or imperil jobs. Those sentiments could mean a tougher road ahead for elected officials looking to fund investments in renewable power or install a carbon cap-and-trade system.

"Right now, Americans are more concerned about the economy than the environment," said Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll. "The politician who says, 'I'm going to cripple jobs and shut down factories' would be in trouble in this economy."


Here's what Gallup found: The number of Americans who say the media have exaggerated global warming jumped to a record 41 percent in 2009, up from 35 percent a year ago. The most marked increase came among political independents, whose ranks of doubters swelled from 33 percent to 44 percent. Republican doubters grew from 59 percent to 66 percent, while Democratic skeptics stayed at around 20 percent.

What's more, fewer Americans believe the effects of global warming have started to occur: 53 percent see signs of a hotter planet, down from 61 percent in 2008. Global warming placed last among eight environmental concerns Gallup asked respondents to rank, with water pollution landing the top spot.

Another recent Gallup study found that, for the first time in 25 years of polling, more Americans care about economic growth than the environment. Just 42 percent of people surveyed said the environment takes precedence over growth, while 51 percent asserted expansion carries more weight. That reverses results from 2008, when 49 percent of respondents said the environment was paramount and 42 percent said economic growth came first. In 1985, the poll's first year, 61 percent placed a bigger priority on the environment, while 28 percent ranked economic growth highest.

All those results indicate trends that pose big challenges for the environmental movement, Gallup's researchers concluded. More pointedly, the findings signal potential trouble for policies designed to curb global warming.



Last week, word leaked out of the Beltway that Card Check would get punted from the 2009 calendar because of the difficulties Democrats had encountered on health-care reform and energy policy. Now Politico reports that cap-and-trade will be off the agenda as well. The arm-twisting required for ObamaCare means that the White House will have no political capital for any other fights that could split the party:

With the fight over health care reform absorbing all the bandwidth on Capitol Hill, Democrats fear a major climate change bill may be left on the cutting-room floor this year.

A handful of key senators on climate change are almost guaranteed to be tied up well into the fall on health care. Democrats from the Midwest and the South are resistant to a cap-and-trade proposal. And few if any Republicans are jumping in to help push a global warming and energy initiative.

As a result, many Democrats fear the lack of political will and the congressional calendar will conspire to punt climate change into next year. "The reality is [the health reform bill] is going to happen before cap and trade," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Collin Peterson, who's been working with farm-state senators on the climate legislation. "Who knows if it will ever come out of the Senate?"

Who, indeed? In fact, cap-and-trade is a bigger political problem than health-care reform. A handful of Republican Senators would like to help craft a health-care reform package that doesn't result in government crowding out private insurance, and it presents no particular regional political issues. Despite this, Democrats remain at odds with each other as Obama and his allies press for radical changes that have little support back home.

On cap-and-trade, Rust Belt Democrats will have a hard time supporting the demolition of their economies back home while trying to keep their seats. Robert Byrd has already announced his opposition, and more will follow suit once this comes to the floor. The Obama administration will have to fight Democrats again to get this passed, and with health-care reform an already massively expensive proposition, they may not have the stomach for a loss.

That means, for all practical purposes, it won't get considered at all. No one will want to propose the kind of fee increases a cap-and-trade system means in an election year. By 2011, Republicans will have made gains in the House and Senate, thanks to a series of overreaches and failures from Obama and Congressional leadership, and Democrats won't have the votes to move them. If they don't get back on the 2009 agenda, they're likely dead.



IN THE frigid opening days of 2009, Britain's electricity demand peaked at 59 gigawatts (GW). Just over 45% of that came from power plants fuelled by gas from the North Sea. A further 35% or so came from coal, less than 15% from nuclear power and the rest from a hotch-potch of other sources. By 2015, assuming that modest economic growth resumes, a reasonable guess is that Britain will need around 64GW to cope with similar conditions. Where will that come from?

North Sea gas has served Britain well, but supply peaked in 1999. Since then the flow has fallen by half; by 2015 it will have dropped by two-thirds. By 2015 four of Britain's ten nuclear stations will have shut and no new ones could be ready for years after that. As for coal, it is fiendishly dirty: Britain will be breaking just about every green promise it has ever made if it is using anything like as much as it does today. Renewable energy sources will help, but even if the wind and waves can be harnessed (and Britain has plenty of both), these on-off forces cannot easily replace more predictable gas, nuclear and coal power. There will be a shortfall-perhaps of as much as 20GW-which, if nothing radical is done, will have to be met from imported gas. A large chunk of it may come from Vladimir Putin's deeply unreliable and corrupt Russia.

Many of Britain's neighbours may find this rather amusing. Britain, the only big west European country that could have joined the oil producers' club OPEC, the country that used to lecture the world about energy liberalisation, is heading towards South African-style power cuts, with homes and factories plunged intermittently into third-world darkness.

In terms of energy policy, this is almost criminal-as bad as any other planning failure in New Labour's 12-year reign (though the opposition Tories are hardly brimming with ideas). British politicians, after all, have had 30 years to prepare for the day when the hydrocarbons beneath the North Sea run out; it is hardly a national secret that the country's nuclear plants are old and its coal-power stations filthy. Recession has only delayed the looming energy crunch (see article). How did Britain end up in this mess?



The August 4 issue of the New York Times features a rather illuminating article by Andrew Revkin - the Times' climate reporter - on sentiment within the ranks of the IPCC as that organization begins work on its upcoming 2014 report. Revkin reports that the IPCC's scientists are frustrated that the world's governments - even those that are led by politicians who habitually give end-is-near speeches about global warming - are not taking the sorts of policy actions the organization thinks are necessary to head-off global catastrophe. Hence, a growing number of scientists want the IPCC to be more explicit and prescriptive with regards to public policy, less inhibited when discussing scientific issues where a great deal of uncertainty exists, more concerned with best practices pertaining to public risk management, and more politically sensitive about the issues that are examined at-length in the upcoming report.

In other words, Revkin reports that the IPCC wants to spend less time on science in their next report than they have in past reports and more time on issues for which it has no relevant expertise or comparative advantage. Of course, Revkin doesn't put it quite that way, but that's the unmistakable implication of what he reports. Consider these complaints one at a time.

The fact that governments are not fundamentally transforming society to address climate change is not necessarily a sign that either the public or their governmental representatives are not listening closely enough to the IPCC. Public resources are, after all, rather limited. There is only so much time, energy, and money to address real, imagined, or potential public harms. Hence, worries about climate change have to compete with worries about AIDS, economic development, terrorism, unfunded public health care and retirement programs, the global economic recession, and numerous other things.

Scientists who specialize in climate change have no comparative advantage in sorting out which of these worries are more important than others. In fact, there is very good reason to think that climate change is less important than more than a dozen other issues affecting human wellbeing even if one buys the scientific arguments found in past IPCC reports.

Moreover, crafting "good" public policy (defined as policies that maximize the spread between benefits and costs, broadly understood) is a difficult undertaking. Political scientists and economists are trained in this sort of thing. Scientists are not.


TN: Solar industry’s promises bring environmental challenges

Once again, there's no such thing as a happy Greenie

As the state tries to reap the benefits of a growing solar industry that could bring thousands of new jobs and billions in new investment, the massive projects also bring with them environmental challenges in the form of intensive manufacturing operations that will draw a tremendous amount of electricity from the state's power grid used to run sprawling chemical reactors.

With just two investments — Hemlock Semiconductor Group near Clarksville and a similar Wacker Chemie AG plant near Chattanooga — Tennessee is poised to become a nationwide leader in the production of polysilicon crystals, the basic building block for the solar industry. Together, these plants will cost at least $2.2 billion to construct.

Meanwhile, the state also is pitching a third site in West Tennessee for solar, and it is putting together plans to build a $35 million "solar institute" at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that will research the industry.

At least at the outset, these solar companies' demand for electricity may actually increase the state's dependency on polluting, coal-fired power plants operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The plants also raise possible environmental and safety hazards, as potentially dangerous chlorine-based gases and liquids are heated to temperatures exceeding 3,600 degrees, then stored and recycled.

Many officials have been quick to describe these plants as "green," based on the fact that the materials they produce will eventually be used to make solar panels that can curb the nation's dependence on coal and natural gas. But the state's budding solar sector also is an outgrowth of its established chemicals industry. The companies themselves cite access to cheap and reliable power and proximity to chlorine suppliers as main reasons for putting their plants in Tennessee. Keeping these plants safe and economically viable will require strict enforcement of state and federal laws, scientists and environmentalists say.



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